Your religion is what you do when the sermon is over. ~Quoted in P.S. I Love You, compiled by H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
It’s ironic that we have a kind of heavenly theme going on here at Four Perspectives this week. Ironic because I’ve been thinking a lot about something that we talked about in my Sunday School a few weeks ago. I say my Sunday School class because I actually teach the class which is, again, ironic since I’m not really convinced I understand the gospel well enough to teach it to anyone else. But it’s the 14 to 18 year-olds so we can kind of…learn together.
Anyway, we’re studying the New Testament this year, which I have found to be a little tricky sometimes to translate into teen-speak. First of all the speech patterns in the New Testament are just hard. I don’t know if it’s the translation from Latin or Greek or whatever language it was originally written in to English, but it can be very stilted sometimes and awkward to read. I’ve always kind of thought of it as the scriptural equivalent of reading Shakespeare. Plus it’s hard sometimes to get the kids to engage in what is essentially a history lesson about the life and ministry of Christ. There’s not always a general theme of the day, sometimes it’s just a story about what happened and what he did. But on the other hand it’s the first time I’ve had to teach the New Testament, chronologically that is, and studying it has given me a lot to think about. Some of these thoughts coincide nicely with acceptable doctrine and some others probably veer off a little into blasphemy. Ok, maybe not blasphemy, but certainly occasional irreverence.
For example, I’ve mentioned before that I’m still not sure I agree with the Lord’s chastisement of Martha when all she wanted was for Mary to help her out a little bit. But through more reading I've realized that maybe the problem wasn’t so much that Martha wanted Mary’s help, it was that she was judging Mary for not helping – which I have to admit sounds familiar. I find myself wondering too with all of the blind people that Jesus heals, did they ever have a hard time adjusting from being blind to suddenly having their sight? They don’t really mention that anyone freaked out. And not that they wouldn’t have been grateful, I’m just saying it must have been tremendously disorienting.
But none of that is actually the thing I’ve been thinking about. A few weeks ago the lesson was from Matthew 23. In this chapter, Jesus is dressing down the Pharisees for being hypocrites. The Pharisees were the chief priests and elders of the Jewish people. They were pretty critical of Jesus because he was very unorthodox; healing people on the Sabbath, not stoning the woman taken in adultery and generally just for claiming to be the Son of God. But rather than worry about what the Pharisees thought of him, Jesus pretty much spent the whole of Matthew 23 telling them that everything that they are doing in their lives to show how righteous they were to the world was complete crap. It was crap because their intention with all of their tithes and offerings sermons and prayers wasn’t to prove their devotion to God, but for all of their works to be seen of men.
The dictionary says hypocrisy is pretending to be what one is not or pretending to believe what one does not. I think that anyone who has ever been involved with any organized religion can sometimes pretend to believe something that you may not have a sure knowledge of. Sometimes we go along with tradition or convention because it is simply the easiest thing to do. And I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing to do – it’s just difficult to sustain. Eventually performance needs to converge with belief otherwise the devotions and offerings become hollow and can turn into something we do just for the admiration of other people.
But with all due respect to Jesus, I also think that sometimes it can be the other way around.
In my readings about hypocrisy for this lesson, I came across an idea: hypocrisy is the opposite of integrity, which is not just honesty but unity of personality. I found myself wondering, do I have unity of personality? Do I behave one way with some people and another way with others? I have to say….I think I do.
I have a friend that is going to come and teach at the detention center school for a few weeks this summer. He’s a little apprehensive about this because it’s a completely different venue than he’s used to plus it’s, you know, it's a detention center. So I asked him to come by so I could show him around a little bit, he could meet some of the guys and just acclimate a little bit. This friend has known me for a long time and knows that I am not what you would call a jolly soul. I am not Miss Merry Sunshine. It takes a concentrated effort for me to shake off the little black rain cloud, put on a happy face and not just find a shadowy corner from which to observe and make sarcastic (and sometimes snarky) comments. I mention this because as I was introducing him to the guys he saw me being, well, other than I usually am. I was happy, I was smiling, I was, dare I say, friendly. He mentioned this as we were walking back to my office – as in “who the heck are you and what have you done with Mel? I have to admit that he was right. I decided a while ago that the guys have plenty of other people in that environment to tell them what is wrong with them and that it just wasn’t my role add to that. So, I do make a concentrated effort at work ( with the students anyway) to be cheerful, engaging, encouraging, happy and generally happy to see them.
But does this make me a hypocrite?
Technically I suppose it does. It’s definitely schizophrenic Mel syndrome and not unity of personality. But I like to think it helps the guys…and I think it helps me too. I have a quote hanging up in my office that says; Misery is easy. It’s happiness that takes work” and I do have to work at being happy. But with this job I have incentive to make that effort at least a little bit every day and I find that it has been good practice.
Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:25 that Every city or house divided against itself shall not stand. I believe that – I really do. Actions should converge with beliefs just as faith without works is dead. But just maybe, even though I'm faking it a lot of the time, if I keep working at it, the happier house will be the one that becomes stronger and that will be the one that will stand. Even Jesus might approve of that kind of hypocrisy.